There is no game more important in the AFC than the Raiders at Steelers this Sunday.
Especially for the Raiders, who are put atop the Wild Card race, with little reason to believe they fall out of that spot.
Oakland, fresh off a home win against a very good Jets team, has only Pittsburgh to beat before their playoff consideration goes all the way.
After the Steelers, the Bills, Dolphins, Chiefs and Texans are next in line, currently with only three wins each. The Raiders would have a huge advantage with a win, and the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh and the Jets.
The Raiders look playoff bound.
Sure, it’s only week 9. There will be eight more games to be played. Anything can happen. Those points are valid.
But consider these things:
— Oakland is coming off a game against the league’s best rush defense, which they torched.
— Derek Carr and his receivers scored 31 points against a unit including Darrelle Revis, among others, in did that in the first three quarters. Oakland posted an additional three points, while the Jets notched 14 of their 20 points after the game was well out of hand.
— Not taking one game too far, the Raiders went toe to toe with Denver, and should have beat Chicago. The Bears played well, but really, everything that could have gone wrong for Oakland, did.
— Further, here’s the Raiders remaining schedule after Pittsburgh: vs Minnesota, at Lions, at Titans, vs Chiefs, at Broncos, vs Packers, vs Chargers and at Chiefs.
Only the Broncos and Packers have winning records of that group, and neither team’s offense has been anything close to what we all expected.
They both have the roster to get there, though, and those two will be the most difficult by far.
The others, Oakland should be favored, and should be expected to win by a touchdown or more.
But the Raiders ultimate postseason picture hinges on the outcome at the Steelers. Oakland wins most individual matchups on paper.
The Raiders interior matches up well against Pittsburgh’s 3-down-linemen, and the rest of the offense wins the battle over 60 minutes.
The same can be said for the defense, save for whomever covers Antonio Brown.
Factor in the absence of Le’Veon Bell, not to mention Oakland has allowed the second fewest rush yards in the league, and you can imagine how that will go.
Oakland isn’t favored in this one, according to Bovada.lv, but should.
The Raiders have something very special brewing. Enough for someone who has watched them practice for the better part of the last three seasons, and watched every game on repeat, to objectively proclaim that this is a team that will play in the Wild Card.
Really, if the Raiders match up with Indianapolis or Houston, as I suspect they will, they should even win.
For now, it’s all about Pittsburgh.
Eliminating the silly mistakes that cost them in Chicago. Running the ball with ferocity. Playing smart and instinctive on the corners. Not giving away yards.
If Oakland does this, they win. They’re the better team. Only stupid mistakes can change the clear win into a loss.
Player to watch: Mario Edwards Jr.
This guy is a whole different genus of player. He’s big, strong, athletic, and more instinctive that most realize. He didn’t see the field much until Justin Tuck was lost for the season with a pectoral injury.
Now that he has, it’s become quite clear that he was well worth the second round draft pick Oakland used on him this past May.
Oh, and that rookie-salary chain he rocks on gameday is pretty fresh also.
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.